High Court Exercising Bail Jurisdiction Cannot Pass Directions Which Will Have Direct Bearing Upon Trial: SC

It is quite refreshing, rejuvenating and reasonable to see that the three Judge Bench of the Supreme Court in Prashant Dagajirao Patil vs. Vaibhav@Sonu Arun Pawar and anr. etc. in exercise of its criminal appellate jurisdiction in Criminal Appeal Nos. 55-56/2021 (@Special Leave Petition (Crl.) Nos. 5038-5039 of 2020) has explicitly, elegantly and effectively held that a High Court, while exercising bail jurisdiction cannot issue directions which will have a direct bearing upon the trial. The three Judge Bench of Apex Court comprising of Justice NV Ramana, Justice Surya Kant and Aniruddha Bose has observed thus while setting aside a direction of the High Court in a case, in which it directed the Investigating Officer to examine a CCTV footage and to submit a report.

To start with, it is first and foremost pointed out in para 1 that, “The Court is convened through Video Conferencing. Leave granted. The present appeals are filed by the Appellant– complainant against the common impugned interim order dated 28.08.2020 passed by the Bombay High Court Bench at Aurangabad whereby, while hearing the bail application of the Respondents-accused herein, the High Court directed the Investigating Officer to examine CCTV footage and submit his report before the Court. Aggrieved by the said order, the Appellant-complainant has challenged the same before this Court by way of Special Leave.”

To say the least, on the other hand, it is then stated in the next para that, “The learned counsel for the Appellant submits that the High Court should not conduct a mini trial while hearing a bail application. The defense of the Respondents-accused would be examined in full detail during the trial, and should not be pre-decided by the High Court during bail proceedings. Any orders passed by the High Court in relation to such an issue would prejudice the trial. The learned counsel for Respondent No. 2- State supported the submissions of the Appellant and further submitted that such a course of action would set a bad precedent.”

Quite the contrary to what is stated above, it is then stated by the Bench in the next para that, “On the other hand, the learned counsel for the Respondents-accused submitted that they had been in jail for nearly 2 years, and that an examination of the CCTV footage would prove that they were not present at the time of the incident. They further submitted that due to the pendency of the proceedings before this Court, the High Court has not decided their bail applications.”

To put things in perspective, the Bench then waxes eloquent to state that, “Heard the learned counsel for the parties. A detailed conspectus of the facts of this case are not necessary for the disposal of the present appeals. However, for the sake of completeness, some facts might be highlighted. The First Information Report regarding the present incident was registered on 09.06.2018 against eight individuals, including the respondents-accused herein, under Sections 302, 307, 349, 120(B), 101, 143, 147, 148 and 149, IPC along with Sections 4 and 25 of the Indian Arms Act and Sections 37(1)(3) and 135 of the Maharashtra Police Act. The allegation is that the accused persons threatened the Appellant-complainant and his family two days prior to the incident, which took place on 08.06.2018, in the evening. At the time of the incident, the Appellant-complainant allegedly saw some of the accused persons block the car of his elder brother and his nephew. Then all the accused persons, including the Respondents-accused herein, assaulted the two persons with dangerous weapons. The Appellant-complainant’s elder brother and nephew allegedly passed away due to the injuries sustained in the incident.”

As it turned out, the Bench then states in the next para that, “Subsequent to their arrest, the Respondents-accused filed bail applications before the Trial Court which have all seemingly been rejected on various grounds including the nature of the allegations against them. The Respondents-accused have therefore moved the High Court for bail, in which proceedings the impugned interim order has been passed.”

Most significantly, the Bench then minces no words to state that, “A perusal of the impugned order indicates that the directions regarding the CCTV footage were made by the High Court on submissions by the counsel for the Respondents-accused before the High Court that they wished to rely on the same to prove their nonparticipation in the alleged incident. While the learned counsel for the Respondents-accused have attempted to submit before us that such an exercise is necessary, we are not in agreement with the same. When only the limited issue of grant of regular bail to the accused is pending consideration before the High Court, it was not appropriate for it to pass the aforesaid directions which will have a direct bearing upon the trial.”

While proceeding ahead, the Bench then observes in the next para that, “Thus, we are of the considered view that the direction of the High Court directing the Investigating Officer to examine the CCTV footage and to submit a report, is not sustainable in the eyes of law and deserves to be set aside.”

Finally, the Bench then concludes by holding in simple and straight language that, “We, accordingly, set aside the common impugned interim order of the High Court and request the said Court to consider the bail applications of the Respondents–accused pending before it, expeditiously, on its own merits and in accordance with law. It is made clear that we have not expressed anything on the merits of the matter. The appeals are allowed in the afore-stated terms.”

No doubt, the three Judge Bench of the Apex Court  has explicitly, elegantly and effectively most rightly held that a High Court, while exercising bail jurisdiction cannot issue directions which will have a direct bearing upon the trial. All the High Courts must also always bear this in mind and abide by it accordingly. We saw how recently in another case the Supreme Court had observed that a criminal court exercising jurisdiction to grant bail/anticipatory bail, is not expected to act as a recovery agent to realize the dues of the complainant. Trial has to be independent and impartial which is possible only if the directions issued don’t have a direct bearing on the trial as has been held by the Apex Court in this case. Very rightly so!

Sanjeev Sirohi

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